Skip to main content

My First Semester Away to College

Paul was a student at the University of Wisconsin in the '60s and also served in the Navy during America's involvement in the Vietnam War.

The author in 1962 as a graduating high school senior.

The author in 1962 as a graduating high school senior.

My First Semester Away to College

In September 1962, I left home for the first time and went away to college at the University of Wisconsin (UW) in Madison. Enrolled in a pre-med course of study, I was attending science courses with 200 students in a big lecture hall and competing with kids from Wisconsin and around the country who were just as smart or more intelligent than me.

When not attending class, I was adjusting to living in a dormitory. I now had to wash my clothes and get up in the morning on my own. Socially, I was starting to date which I never did when I went to high school.

In this article, I recall my adjustment to college life both inside and outside of the classroom. Each one of my classes had an experience that I will always remember.

Preparing to Go to College

As early as the seventh or eighth grade, I decided to attend college. Although dad had only gone to one semester of college, he encouraged me to enroll at the University of Wisconsin after high school and study to become a doctor.

In preparation for getting accepted into college, I enrolled in college prep courses in high school starting in the ninth grade or my Freshman year. Throughout four years of high school, my college prep courses included four years of mathematics, three years of science, four years of foreign languages, two years of history, and four years of English. For math, I took two years of algebra, one and a half years of geometry, and one-half year of trigonometry. My science subjects consisted of one year each of biology, chemistry, and physics. Two years of Latin and two of Spanish satisfied my foreign language requirement.

To ensure acceptance into the University of Wisconsin's College of Arts and Sciences, I was very industrious in school and earned membership in the National Honor Society for four years, and became valedictorian of my graduating Senior class. As part of the application process, I also took the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the American College Testing (ACT) exams.

Pre-registration for College

Late in the spring of 1962, I was accepted for admission into the Freshman class of UW-Madison which began in September. As a service and aid to new incoming students, the UW offered pre-registration for fall beginning classes during the summer of 1962.

Since I had never been to the UW-Madison campus, I took advantage of this pre-registration and went to Madison for two days and one night during July. There, I met with a university pre-med advisor to select classes for the first semester. I had originally wanted to get into an Honors Program but was dissuaded by the advisor due to my low scores on the ACT.

My advisor and I jointly agreed it would be best for me to register for 15 credits during the first semester. These credits would include three in general inorganic chemistry, five in zoology, four in differential calculus, and three in English composition. Also, all Freshman students were required to register for two hours of physical education each week with no credit.

Freshman Orientation

The University of Wisconsin - Madison campus

The University of Wisconsin - Madison campus

About the middle of September, I made the long-awaited move from home to college at UW-Madison about 80 miles away.

Accompanied by one or two suitcases, dad drove me to the destination of my new home for the next school year. It was one of the residence halls for students on campus adjoining Lake Mendota.

For the next week, I would be very busy getting used to my new dormitory life, exploring the UW campus, opening an account at a Madison bank, book shopping, and attending a University Freshman orientation.

My new dorm room was on the fourth floor of Tarrant House in the Adams Hall complex. Tarrant House had about 50 residents in both single and double rooms on all four floors. I was in a small double room and had a Freshman roommate, Max, from Illinois.

The residents of Adams, Tripp, and Schlicter Halls all ate in a common dining hall called Van Hise. Adams and Tripp had all-male dorms and Schlicter was an all-coed dorm.

Coin-operated washers and dryers were provided in the basement of one of the Adams Hall houses. A TV room was also in the basement of another house. Our mail was delivered to a gatehouse in front of the Adams Hall quadrangle.

After getting oriented to my new living facilities, I started to explore the vast UW campus. My classes were scheduled all over the campus so I had to know my way around.

From my dorm along the lake, I ascended a 500-meter slightly rise long hill (Bascom Hill) to reach the heart of the campus where some of my classes were located. There, I learned that my zoology classes were in Birge Hall and my English classes were in the Social Science Building.

Scroll to Continue

My chemistry classes were in the Chemistry Building below Bascom Hill to the west. It was right across from the Medical School.

My math and physical education classes were at the foot of Bascom to the east. Calculus class was in the Journalism Building and physical education in the old Armory which looked like a medieval castle.

Bordered by Lake Mendota to the north, the campus adjoined State Street which ran from the foot of Bascom Hill through the city to the State Capitol Building. To the south, the campus was bounded by University Avenue. Camp Randall Football Stadium and the University Field House for basketball games were farther south of University Avenue.

After learning my way around campus, it was time to go into the city and open a bank account. I did this by walking a few blocks down State Street toward the Capitol and finding a Madison bank. Following the filling out of some paperwork, I deposited money into a checking account and was then presented with a box or two of personal checks.

Next, I went to the University Bookstore on State Street just off campus and purchased my books and supplies for the fall semester. There were signs all over the aisles inside the store indicating courses of study and the books required for each course. I selected a calculus book for Math 21, a zoology book and lab manual for Zoology 101, and a chemistry book and lab manual for Chemistry 5. I forget which book was required for English 101. The books seemed very expensive and I remember writing a check for around $50.00.

A few days before the first day of classes, orientation for all incoming Freshman students was held inside the UW Field House. While seated listening to UW officials, I remember to this day a remark made by one speaker. He or she told all students to look first at the person sitting on their left and then at the one on their right. "Only one of you will graduate," was the solemn warning made. I couldn't understand the truth of this statement until I experienced college life and completed my first year.

My First Week of Classes

During the third week of September, I started my first week of first-semester classes. My 15 credits of courses plus non-credit physical education took up approximately 25 hours of class time per week.

A five-credit Zoology 101 course met 10 hours weekly. It was broken down into three hours of lecture, three hours of discussion, and four of laboratory work.

The three credit Chemistry 5 classes met six hours per week. It consisted of two hours of lecture, two hours of discussion, and two lab work.

My English 101 and Math 21 classes didn't meet as often as the science courses. English 101 was scheduled for three hours weekly and differential calculus for four hours each week.

Non-credit physical education took up two hours weekly. Also, I had an hour or two of non-credit introduction to the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

As I remember, my first college class was a chemistry lab that met from 7:45 until 9:40 on Monday morning. That was followed by my math class from 11:00 until 11:50. In the afternoon, I think I had a zoology lecture from 2:25 until 3:15.

Except for my math class which met Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, my other classes met either Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning.

I quickly found out that college life was a lot different from high school.

Whereas in high school I only had to move from classroom to classroom in one building, I now had to move a considerable distance between different buildings where my classes were held. That is why there was a 15-minute break between classes in the morning and afternoon.

Another big difference was the vast size of lecture classes and labs. Both my chemistry and zoology lecture classes had 200 students. This led to little or no contact with my professors.

I also noticed that there was a lot of competition in my science classes. Many students were also in the pre-med program and they were top students in their high school graduating classes.

Bascom Hall

Bascom Hall on Bascom Hill.  The heart of the UW campus.  Taken in June 2019.

Bascom Hall on Bascom Hill. The heart of the UW campus. Taken in June 2019.

Armory Building

The Armory Building constructed in 1893.  I had my physical education classes here in 1962,  Picture taken in 2019.

The Armory Building constructed in 1893. I had my physical education classes here in 1962, Picture taken in 2019.

Adjusting to Dormitory Life

When not in class, I spent most of the time in my dorm. It was difficult for me to study in a small room because I had a roommate who always had friends over.

Fortunately, Adams Hall residents could study in the Van Hise dining hall during the hours of 7-11 evenings. During the day, I could also prepare for my classes in some college libraries.

On Friday evenings, dorm residents could watch free 35 mm reel projector movies in the Commerce Building on campus.

On Saturdays in the fall, I would often go to football games at Camp Randall Stadium. The UW football team went to the Rose Bowl after a very successful 1962 season.

Sundays were dress-up days for me and other dorm residents. In the morning, I put on a suit to attend Catholic Mass just off-campus. Later, I had to wear that same suit for noon dinner served in the dorm dining hall. Sunday evening meals weren't served in the dining hall. Consequently, my friends and I would often order a large pizza.

Socially, the dormitory provided many activities. Once every two months, candlelight suppers were arranged between the residents of our dorm and other co-ed dormitories. Our dining partners were always blind dates. I took the first one to a house party and the second one, Sally who I liked, accompanied me to the Homecoming Show where Bob Hope was performing. Twice a semester, our dorm also had parties on Saturday nights where 3.2 percent beer was served.

Adams Hall

I lived in Tarrant House which is in the back to the right.  Taken in 2019.

I lived in Tarrant House which is in the back to the right. Taken in 2019.

Carson Gulley Hall

Also known as Van Hise Hall up until 1965.  This is where I ate my dormitory meals.  Taken in 2019.

Also known as Van Hise Hall up until 1965. This is where I ate my dormitory meals. Taken in 2019.

Tarrant House Residents

Residents of Tarrant Hall where I lived during my Freshman Year.

Residents of Tarrant Hall where I lived during my Freshman Year.

Lasting Memories of Classes

During the fall semester of 1962, I will always remember the following from each of my classes.


I burnt my fingers bending glass during one of the first lab sessions.


I scored 100 on a laboratory quiz identifying bones and their parts.


I couldn't understand the theory of limits and was failing my calculus course after the first six weeks of classes.


While walking to classes on Saturday mornings, I could hear jets taking off and landing from nearby Truax Field in Madison.

Physical Education

During physical education classes for men, we all had to swim in the nude in the Armory pool.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Paul Richard Kuehn


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on September 01, 2020:

When I was young, I never kept a diary. I only have some letters I wrote to my mother and penpal. If you keep a diary, you should be able to refresh your memory when you are older like me.

Literarycreature from Argentina on August 19, 2020:

I started college last year, and it has been an amazing experience so far. I am always curious about campus life, because here in Argentina students don't live there. That is to say, there are no dorms, we go to our classes but we keep living in our houses. My experience was a bit different though, because as I am from a small town and we have no universities, I had to move to another city on my own.

It is amazing how many things you remember! I wonder if my memory will be able to keep so many details of my own university experience as time goes by.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on March 02, 2019:

Thank you, Umesh. I'm happy you found my article very interesting and nice reading.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on March 02, 2019:

Very interesting article. Nice reading.


Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on December 30, 2018:

I'm happy you liked the article, Brian. Did you also attend college in Zambia?

Brian Munthali from Chingola on December 23, 2018:

What a wonderful article. It really reminds me of when I left home for the first time, to live in a boarding secondary school after I was selected to do my Form 1 at the beginning of 1968 in rural Zambia. Congratulation.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on December 21, 2018:

Yes, Pamela, it was a very big change in many ways. Thanks for commenting.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on December 21, 2018:

You really had quite the change when you went to college away from home. It sounds like you were very successful, so that is a great accomplishment. This is an interesting article.

Paul Richard Kuehn (author) from Udorn City, Thailand on December 19, 2018:

Yes, going away to college was an adventure as was joining the Navy. I am happy you liked this article and thanks for the Angels.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on December 19, 2018:

Quite an adventure wasn't it? It is funny what stands out those years ago when we had left home, many of us for the first time, to try our wings and learn new things. thanks for sharing your memories with us. It helped me to recall many fond times in those early college days. Many Angels are on the way to you this morning ps

Related Articles